LaVar Ball has no regrets as LaMelo, Lonzo deal with injuries he blames on NBA conditioning, 'raggedy shoes'



Let’s start first at the end: LaVar Ball won.

Whatever else is true, whatever injuries have done to two of his sons, and whatever injuries may do to them in the months and years ahead, the brash, confident, bold patriarch who seemed to take all of the oxygen out of every basketball room he entered more than five years ago was correct on his kids.

They were — and still may be — the real deal. And they got paid for it. And that alone means their dad, whatever you felt about him or his message, did exactly what a dad is supposed to do. He succeeded in setting his sons up for massive success.

With LaMelo Ball and Lonzo Ball in the news recently, CBS Sports sought out their father, curious if there was any introspection or new perspectives in connection with the bold dad who feuded with the media, proclaimed his teenage sons’ greatness over and over, challenged various all-time greats, frustrated staid fans and basketball insiders and generally spun self-confidence and bluster into entertainment gold.

And it turns out there is some introspection to be found — for the rest of us. LaVar won, because his kids won.

Yes, last week, the Charlotte Hornets shut down LaMelo Ball for the remainder of the season. But that ankle injury — and the other injuries that have hampered his availability in his four years in the NBA — does not negate the five-year contract he signed last summer that could pay him as much as $260 million.

He’s still a career 20/6/7 player, even if he’ll end up playing just 58 total games between this and last year’s seasons.

His older brother, Lonzo, still has a player option this summer on a deal that by its end will have paid him $80 million, even though he hasn’t played an actual game in more than two years.

“Well, mentally, they got a strong mindset,” LaVar says. “They Balls. So they’re going to come back. They’re going to rehab. They’re going to do their thing.”

Le’ts hope so. Both Lonzo and LaMelo, in vastly different ways, can still be difference makers in this league. And that LaVar thinks they’ll return, better than ever, is what you’d expect — but also worth listening to. He’s been right on them before.

There’s plenty of the LaVar you know in our conversation. Things like, “I’m always right — I hate to be right all the time, but it is what it is.” Or slipping in a shot at the shoes his Melo plays with now. Or the general bravado that marked LaVar’s 15 minutes or so of fame, that time between when Lonzo was drafted No. 2 overall in 2017 and when LaMelo went No. 3 overall in 2020.

But there’s also the final fact that his kids have lives, and careers, few could dream of having. And the Father’s pride, still bursting, even if the rest of him — likable, funny, direct, to-the-point — is a bit toned down.

A bit.

“As long as my boys are taking care of themselves and doing what they’re supposed to do, and get to do something that they love to do for as long as they can, it’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, and I look at it with a different perspective, which is, A) even conditioning and even coming back, at least you get to do something that you love to do.”

Because, either way, they have great lives?

“Right, exactly, exactly — but make a living.”

So do you feel like you won?

“Oh, yes,” he says. “Man, come on. Let me tell you this. As a parent, you give your kids — I think the bottom line is you just want them to take care of themselves after we go on. As long as they can do that, we feel good about raising them. So if you don’t give them education, you’ve got to give them a trade. 

“I gave my boys a trade to take care of them for their life, which is playing basketball,” he says. “Now, if they’re not going to be 6’6″, 6’7″, and long and athletic, you better put them in that school. So if you only get to be four feet — read and be able to type on a computer. That’s all you got to do. But you got to give them a trade or you give them some education. Pick one. I picked athletics. So look what happened.”

Looking for more from Bill Reiter’s conversation with LaVar Ball? Check out CBS Sports’ Beyond the Arc podcast, a daily NBA show.

Not that LaVar loves every aspect of his kids’ careers.

He chalks the injuries up to the fact his boys are trained by NBA folks who don’t know what they’re doing instead of, well, him. 

“They say, oh, LaVar, you worked the boys out too hard — that’s why they hurt,” he says. “No, the reason they hurt is because they got away from me. And they start doing these roody-poo workouts. Because if you keep running them hills, you’re going to keep that power and that strength. But you start dealing with these rubber bands and doing this lightweight stuff, of course you’re going to start breaking down.”

He’s got more on this. And room to plug, casually, his Big Baller Brand, which, by the “BBB” shirt he’s wearing, is still a thing. 

“They’ve been trained hard enough? No, no, no,” he says. “Because you condition your body for running and jumping. You’ve got to condition your legs. So that’s why I always have my boys in them hills and running hard in them hills. That will make you run like a deer when you get on that court, so you won’t be getting hurt. A lot of things have to do with them raggedy shoes that Melo be wearing. Them shoes are not made the right way for him. That’s why he keeps tweaking his ankle every single time.”

He says Lonzo and LaMelo will both be back next season, ready to go, ready to keep on succeeding. 

And they have succeeded, in a purely basketball sense. At least when they’ve been our there. Melo’s excellence, when available, has been clear. But Lonzo, too, has brought something special, even if it’s been so long since we all saw it. His basketball gifts are the kind that can go unnoticed. 

When he went down to injury two years ago, the Chicago Bulls led the Eastern Conference at the halfway mark. They haven’t been nearly that good since. And it was hard to see, at the time, that he might have been the key ingredient in the strange alchemy that made that Bulls team so good back then.

Lonzo has only played 35 games with the Bulls, but over that stretch they’ve been 22-13.

“What Lonzo does, he makes everybody better around him,” LaVar says. “He’s been like that all his life. So when people used to be like, ‘Oh, he’s going to the Bulls and he’s the fourth option,’ and this and that, that doesn’t go into his head.

“He made Zach Lavine better. He made DeMar DeRozan better. (Nikola) Vucevic. Everybody. And now they see when you take him out of the puzzle, look what happens.”

There are so many ways to go at the Balls, if you’re so inclined. That the Bulls and Hornets wasted money — big-time money — on two would-be stars who may not live up to those investments. That the dad’s big words back in the day fall flat compared to the stark reality of the sons’ present. And so on and so forth.

But that misses the point, at least as LaVar Ball sees it: That his job wasn’t to make basketball stars for the rest of us, but to make sure their basketball stardom set them up for the rest of their lives. 

Everything else? The hope they can get back to the game, can be durable, can stay on the floor, can be what we thought LaVar was selling when they first entered the league? All of that’s a bonus.

It’s why LaVar looks dumbfounded — or maybe like he’s just talking to someone dumb — when asked if he’s ever had a single moment of doubt or worry about the future of his sons.

“No. Never.”

Not once?

“Not once.”

Why?

“Because,” he says later, “if I die tomorrow, my boy’s going to be alright.”





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